Health & Science

Ireland introduces a minimum price on alcohol

From January 2022, Ireland sets a floor price for alcohol to decrease its consumption. It will mostly increase prices in retail stores, especially for the most affordable spirits.

bottles of wine on shelves
In Ireland, a bottle of wine at 13% abv will cost more than €7.69 from January 4, 2022 | © Florent B. from Pexels, 2019

On January 4, Ireland introduces its minimum unit price on alcohol.

The regulation aims at reducing alcohol consumption from the heaviest drinkers and younger people who tend to binge drink cheap but strong alcohol.

Ireland has set a floor price for alcoholic drinks. Every gram of pure alcohol will not be sold below 10 cents from January 4 on. As a consequence, some products will double in price from a day to the other.

Pubs, night clubs or restaurants serve one unit of alcohol in a standard glass of wine, in a glass of spirits or a half pint. As one unit of alcohol contains 10 grams of alcohol, it cannot be sold for less than 1 euro (US$1.13).

Drinks in bars or restaurants are already sold at a higher price than €1 per unit. They will not really be affected by price floors. But it will have an impact on retail store prices, especially on spirits since they contain more alcohol.

Prices will primarily increase in retail stores

A pint of beer with 4.5% alcohol by volume will be priced at no less than €1.78. A standard bottle of wine at 12,5% ABV will be at least €7.40. A 70cl bottle of gin of vodka at 37.5% will be more expensive than €20.71 and spirits at 43% such as Scotch whiskeys will be sold for more than €23.75.

The quantity in grams of alcohol is calculated by the volume of liquid in milliliters x alcoholic strength by volume of the alcohol product x 0.789.

The new minimum unit price will also affect drinks with low quality but will preserve the more premium brands as they are already sold at higher price ranges. As such, it is also perceived by some as a regressive measure that will primarily penalize the population with already low incomes.

The floor price is not a tax, although the provision doesn’t apply to tax-free shops for international travelers.

Critics argue it will ultimately only enrich retailers and not the state, which could invest the money in support and educational systems to reduce hazards of alcohol consumption. On the other hand, fewer alcohol-related illnesses, hospital admissions, violent events or workplace absences because of floor pricing are estimated to save society €1.7 billion every year, an Irish Times opinion piece reports.

Ireland is the second most expensive country in the European Union. Alcohol and tobacco are 86% more expensive than the EU average according to Eurostat data. But in Europe, Norway is the country where alcohol and tobacco are the priciest, twice the EU average.

On average, an Irish drinks more than a pint a day

The initiative is part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 and Ireland’s goal to reduce alcohol consumption among the population.

The provision on the minimum unit price of alcohol was approved in May 2021 to “reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol and to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people“, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly explained at the time. Officials hope it would change drinking behaviors in the country.

In Ireland, 1 in 4 completely abstain from alcohol. But at the same time, more than half of drinkers are considered hazardous drinkers. On average, an Irish over 15 years old drank 10.8 liters of pure alcohol in 2019, which accounted for more than a pint of beer a day.

In 30 years, alcohol in Ireland hasn’t changed in terms of grams of alcohol absorbed. However, the type of liquid the population drinks has evolved. In 1989, 70% of the alcohol ingested by Irish people came from drinking beer. But they now drink fewer beers and more wine and spirits than 30 years ago.

Furthermore, they do it more at home than in pubs. As a consequence, Ireland lost 17% of its pubs between 2005 and 2017.

Since 2018, Scotland introduced a minimum unit pricing of 50 pence (€0.60 at current exchange rates), a floor price six times as high as in Ireland. In March 2020, Wales introduced the same minimum price as Scotland. In Australia, the minimum price set in 2018 in the Northern Territory was A$1.30 per unit of alcohol, or approximately €0.08 per gram of alcohol.

Read more about Ireland

Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, Government of Ireland, Free access, PDF

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